Hockey

Barry Trotz – No question he’s effective, but good lord is it dull. Trotz won’t care, he’s got a ring and a series of teams that have overachieved throughout his career. But in a league trying to be a souped up as possible and needs all the juice it can get, here comes Trotz to throw a wrench. Perfect that he’s now working for…

Lou Lamoriello – Old hockey men love to talk about how much they love hockey players and how they’re just different than everyone else (yeah, they’re dumber), but in reality they hate them. No better example than ol’ Lou, whose Devils first nearly killed the sport and also were a prime precedent for other organizations to see players as interchangeable parts as long as the system was sound. Lou hates paying anyone, doesn’t think anyone should get paid, and we doubt he could tell you half the names of his players. They’re merely worker bees to him, and it’s no coincidence that all his teams were torture to watch. Including what should have been the high-flying Leafs.

Matt Martin – He’s not fitting our usual narrative at all, because he doesn’t have a penalty minute all season. He’s supposed to be nothing more than a broken Imperial Walker, and now he doesn’t even really destroy anything. All he does is look like Jacob deGrom.

Hockey

There was no bigger surprise team than the Islanders last season, as Barry Trotz took a contract dispute from DC up the Acela and then proved he can turn just about anything into a useful team. But his boss, Nosferatu, blames free agency for the global warming he assuredly doesn’t believe in, and the Isles look like they’re just going to count on running it back again. Will it work? It’s hard to think a Trotz team will ever be bad, but catching lightning twice has eluded just about everyone in history. Let’s learn about the Islanders.

2018-2019

48-27-7  103 points (2nd in Metro)

Won 1st round over PIT, lost second round to Carolina

2.72 GF/G (22nd)  2.33 GA/G (1st)

47.8 CF% (26th)  51.2 xGF% (12th)

14.5 PP% (29th)  79.9 PK% (19th)

Goalies: The Islanders lost one half of their tandem that anchored this team last year, as Robin Lehner toddled off here in July. The Islanders are going to attempt to take the whispers of Trotz and Mitch Korn and apply them to Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov was very up and down in Colorado last season, eventually losing his job to Philip Grubauer. That was kind of his whole career in Denver, where he flashed Vezina form at times and then was one of Jack’s French girls at others. But overall, he’s got a career .915 SV%, and considering how all Trotz teams make it easier on goalies, it would be reasonable to expect some good numbers from him.

He’ll pair with Thomas Greiss, who flourished behind this team last year at .927. He and Lehner had high expected-save-percentages thanks to the ultra defensive system, but both exceeded that in actual save-percentages. Greiss has done this before, but hasn’t been able to back it up. He won’t be asked to carry the load here though, and again, goalies under Trotz rarely shit a chicken unless their hip falls off.

Defense: Again, the exact same crew you remember from last year, though this time with a full season from the promising Devon Toews. They’ll hope for another step from Ryan Pulock, as Nick Leddy really struggled for most of the year to push the play. Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech are about as solid as you can ask for without doing much you’ll remember. Johnny Boychuck will pair with Leddy as he has for the past five seasons, but time seemed to catch up to him last year. As we cannot hammer enough, this defense gets a lot of support from the forwards, but was somewhat exposed by the speed and possession of the Hurricanes last year. Both Trotz and Lamoriello don’t want much to do with puck-moving d-men here, so they’re lucky in that they don’t have a prime one. Still, in a conference that requires you to get past Carolina or Toronto or Boston or Tampa, it probably takes more than obstinance to do so. Maybe Noah Dobson gets a look? That would be a real stretch.

Forwards: Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but it’s the exact same crew as last year. The only addition to it has been Derick Brassard, or whatever pod person is occupying his body now as he hasn’t been productive in the last three seasons at least. Which leaves Mathew Barzal and his missing T to carry the mail on the top line next to Anders Lee and Josh Bailey. Brock Nelson anchors the second line, and after that it’s a whole bunch of grunts and agriculture. Only one Islander forward managed more than 60 points last year (Barzal) and only three had 20 goals or more. And one of those was Casey Cizikas, who shot nearly 20%, and that’s not going to happen again. The Isles will hope to smother and bore their way to a playoff spot again.

Prediction: It’s not wise to go against a Trotz-led team, but the margins are so thin for this bunch. They limit good chances, even if they don’t limit attempts. There’s just so little scoring here, and if they don’t get water-tight defense, the percentages are going to go against them. Neither Varlamov or Greiss is really capable of taking a full starter’s load at this point, so if one falters the whole system might sink underneath them.

Luckily for the Isles, the division blows hardcore. The Caps and Pens are on the downsides of their cycles, with only the Canes looking like their pivoting up beyond the Isles. The Devils day may yet come, but not this season you wouldn’t think. And you can catch a lot of teams cold in January and February when they can’t locate the fucks to give to work hard enough to deal with a Trotz trap. Still looks short to me, but I said that last year too.

Hockey

The one wrinkle that Stan Bowman missed while ironing his brain this summer was signing Robin Lehner. With Corey Crawford in a perpetual state of ouch and a blue line more horrendously conceived than Waldo’s Dad’s wall, finding a Robin for the Batman Bowman thinks this backend is was quite the steal, if not a bit on the nose.

2018–19 Stats

46 GP – 25 W, 13 L, 5 OTL

.930 SV%, 2.13 GAA

.934 EV%, 1.000 PP%, .888 SH%

28.7 Shots Against/Game

A Brief History: Lehner had a career year last year. He won the Jennings after Barry No-Neck reinstituted his “hockey should feel like a botched vasectomy” defense on the Isle/Brooklyn. He won the Masterson for performing well after confronting and addressing the hell of bipolar disorder. And he was second runner-up for the Vezina. For all the pants shitting Bowman did in the off-season, he managed to fling at least one diaper onto Lou Lamoriello’s cue-ball dome by signing Lehner to a one-year, $5 million deal.

Lehner consistently ranked in the top five among goalies in ALL situations last year.

  • Second overall with a .930 SV% (behind only THE BISHOP!)
  • Third overall with a 2.13 GAA
  • Third overall with a .854 HDSV% (high-danger save percentage)

Lehner also only gave up 93 goals on the year against an expected 109 (ALL situations), which simply means he played better than expected.

You may remember that the Blackhawks were the absolute worst team in HDCF% and a bottom-10 team in HDGF% last year, which is just a fancy way to say that their high-danger defense was a plastic bag of sun-drenched mayonnaise. So, that HDSV% should pop out as promising.

Lehner was pretty good on the PK last year, too, with a .888 SV%. For a team that portends to piss itself on the PK again this year, you’ll take any improvement you can get there.

It Was the Best of Times: If Lehner plays at just his career average rate, then the Hawks have a pretty comparable albeit lesser replacement for Corey Crawford.

Career

Games

SV%

SH SV%

5v5 HDCF%

5v5 HDGF%

5v5 HDSV%

Crawford

448

.918

.869

.501*

.529*

.852*

Lehner

265

.918

.892

.498

.479

.825

Postseason not included

* = 2007–19, NaturalStatTrick.com

And over the last four years, Lehner’s been the better of the two on the PK, though inferior in terms of HDSV%.

2015–19

Games

SV%

SH SV%

5v5 HDCF%

5v5 HDGF%

5v5 HDSV%

Crawford

180

.919

.875

.475

.520

.864

Lehner

179

.919

.891

.502

.477

.815

Postseason not included

This will be Lehner’s first real year since 2013–14 behind a team whose offense isn’t reliant on gas station enhancement pills for even a spurt. (Did you know Ottawa had a top-10 offense in terms of goals scored that year? I sure forgot.) Even with all the woe we throw at this team, the offense has been in the top-10 in terms of goals scored four of the last five years.

So, best case, Lehner performs at a career level or better, which improves the PK despite the fact that it’s somehow going to be slower than it was last year. With the Hawks scoring at a top-10 rate, Lehner can hide some of the trouble he’s had in allowing high-danger goals as the Hawks simply go with an air raid strategy all year. Lehner takes a 60/40 split of starts and the Hawks eke out a playoff spot on the backs of their offense and 1A/1B goalie tandem.

It Was the BLURST of Times: Robin Lehner played for one of the best defensive teams last year. You saw the numbers he put up behind that. The year before, he played for one of the worst defensive teams in Buffalo. His results weren’t pretty, as he threw a .908 SV% and 3.01 GAA. His HDSV% was an abysmal .796. The latter is closer to the kind of defense that Lehner can expect coming to Chicago.

Worst case, aside from an injury, is that Lehner can’t make up for how bad the Hawks blue line is. His HDSV% plummets behind a blue line that, again, managed to somehow get slower than it was last year. He drowns even splitting time with Crawford, and when Crow inevitably gets hurt, Lehner turns into the pumpkin we called Cam Ward last year. The Hawks don’t make the playoffs, don’t get a lucky bounce in the lottery, and no one learns anything.

Prediction: Lehner will end up as the 1A goalie as Crow’s tenure as the Hawks’s resident Rodney Dangerfield winds down. He won’t wow like he did last year, but we’ll get a serviceable, slightly-below-career-average line from Lehner. Let’s say, .908 SV%, .880 SH%. But the Hawks blue line and Lehner’s career HDSV% will pair as well as puke on a pile of shit, and none of the problems the Hawks had last year will really be solved.

Here come the Hawks?

Stats from hockey-reference.com and NaturalStatTrick.com

 

Everything Else

Leave it to a crusty old bastard like Lou Lamoriello to make us look even stupider than we normally do. Earlier in the month, when the Hawks were on the Island, we wrote the Lou didn’t really have a place in the game today. That he would hold the Isles back at a time when they needed forward thinkers. And basically the Islanders haven’t lost since, and have shot up to the top of the Metro Division. Sure, Lou is benefitting from the bonkers goaltending the Isles have been getting as much as anyone else, but here we are.

Still, we’re curious what lies ahead for the Islanders when everything shakes down to where it’s supposed to be. And that’s most important in the case of Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, who are both free agents when this season is over.

You would think that Lee would be the type of player that if Lamoriello were going to pay anyone, it would be him. He’s a true power forward, who put up 74 goals the past two seasons and is on pace for another 30 this year. Sure, he’s gotten to play with John Tavares for most of last year. But this year it’s been him and Nelson together, under the top line of Barzal. He scores where he goes.

The problem is that Lee is still a premier goal-scorer, and those guys get paid. And at the moment, Lee is making $3.7M against the cap, or just $700K more than Lou gave Leo Komarov. So yeah, he’s going to get a raise. And a big one. And the Isles have the cap space, with about $35 million for next year unclaimed. Lee’s 92 goals the past three seasons are ninth most in the league, more than Marchand, Skinner, and Kane. Marchand signed recently for a very team-friendly $6.1 million, and his linemate Pastrnak at $6.6M. That’s probably the number Lee has circled.

Nelson has been a pretty consistent second-line center for the Isles this year. With Barry Trotz upping the amount of times Barzal starts in the offensive zone from last year, it’s Nelson who has had to take on harder responsibilities. It hasn’t clipped his scoring at all, as he’s on pace to break his career-high of 45 points and possibly tickle his high in goals too 0f 28. Teams still need to be built down the middle, and a second-center like Nelson aren’t something you can pick up at the bodega.

And Lou has to keep in mind that no matter what he does, Barzal is going to be looking for a contract out of his entry-deal starting on July 1st. And he’s going be more in the $8-9M category than the $6-7M one.

The thing is, we can’t remember Lou ever paying someone that premium. Zach Parise walked out of New Jersey after banking about $3M a year out of his entry deal. He got a one-year deal at $6M when he was still restricted, but then headed to Minnesota for the real money. In Toronto Lou signed Patrick Marleau, but that of course was the aging veteran he could trust. It’s probably not a coincidence that Lou was moved along before it came time to negotiate with Nylander and Matthews. Lou has openly mocked the money that players make already, but someone has go to attract the residents of Long Island to that new arena in Belmont, right?

It’s a strange landscape in the Metro. The Jackets are about to be stripped of their two biggest talents. The Penguins and Capitals are at least on the back nine. The Flyers and Rangers are in rebuilds, and remain the Flyers and Rangers. The Devils are rebuilding as well. Splash a little cash, a shrewd move here or there, and there’s no reason the Islanders can’t fill the vacuum quickly. But has that ever been Lou’s way?

 

Game #51 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It says something of the nondescript nature of this Devils team that were still left to talk about the ones from the distant past in order to stir any kind of emotion. But that’s where we are. There’s nothing about this Devils team worth getting in a furor, or even a tizzy, over.

Normally, a team that defines an era is a celebration of it, no matter the sport. The Hawks moved along the line of the Red Wings in dominating the game through skill. The Penguins as well, with even greater star power. The Patriots through ruthless planning and quarterback excellence. The Cowboys of the 90s the greater speed needed. The Bulls on having the greatest player to play and killer defense at the right moment. You see where we’re going here.

The Devils were an example of the disintegrating of the sport. Their excellence came when the sport was impossible to watch, when the tactics employed were meant to destroy anything good about hockey. And they did it better than anyone–the clutching, grabbing, trapping, the boredom–which only made it harder to watch. As more and more eyes turned away from hockey, the Devils flourished and only expedited that process, and then more teams tried to copy them. They were sports’ Invisible Boy, only flourishing when no one was watching.

Of course, that only brought glory to fucking northern New Jersey, which is somehow perfect. A place no one wants to be with a team that no one wants to watch that no one could get rid of. It’s not even a place. It’s an area. It’s somewhere you might know on a map. Maybe. You think of landmarks anywhere else. Think of New Jersey, you basically think of sludge and pollution and highways to literally anywhere else. Maybe the airport. The Devils reflected that in hockey form.

It looks like hockey and the NHL has finally recovered from that era, with scoring up and more creative and fun players than perhaps they’ve ever had. It took this long. You can thank the Devils for that.

 

 

Game #48 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Dan Saraceni is one-half of the editing team at LightHouseHockey.com. You can follow him on Twitter @CultureOfLosing. 

After losing Tavares, the Isles are somehow hanging around a playoff spot in the East. How and why? 
 I’d like to just write, “TROTZ” but it’s a little more complex than that. Yes, having a coach who actually knows what he’s doing makes a big difference. And after three straight coaches getting their feet wet in the NHL (two with AHL experience, one just as an NHL assistant), having a guy show up with a defined game plan and a crew that’s worked for 20+ years and a Stanley Cup changes a lot of things. There’s way less headless chicken action going on out there and everyone seems to be on the same page regardless of skill level (or lack thereof). The goalies have also been lights out, which can be traced back to better defensive play and – again – coaches like Mitch Korn and Piero Greco that actually have a clue. Whether they actually make the playoffs is still up in the air, but playing like an actual NHL team and not beer league walk-ons has been fun so far.
Is Jordan Eberle playing himself into being actually affordable in the summer for the Isles? Or is he still going to do one?
Eberle is hurt right now, and Josh Ho-Sang has been more than holding his own in Eberle’s spot on the second line. I don’t know if we know why he’s been so unproductive this season, but it’s not really the way you want to go into a UFA year. Between him and the Islanders’ other UFAs (steady captain Anders Lee and the suddenly awakened Brock Nelson), Eberle is easily the odd man out and could be a rental for someone at the deadline. He’ll be coming off a $6 million a year contract from the Oilers, so I don’t know if he’ll come cheap to whoever signs him. If he somehow loves Long Island, maybe he’ll stay but it’s probably not happening.
What on Earth has happened to Nick Leddy? Only 11 points and his metrics smell worse than a skunk on a hot day.
This is from October by our LHH colleague Cary: https://www.lighthousehockey.com/2018/10/23/18014512/nick-leddy-analysis-islanders-slump. Although he’s looked better lately, Leddy’s problems stretch back to the middle of last season, and no one’s sure what happened. It’s frustrating watching a guy who can skate that smoothly and carry the puck well do jack shit with it (especially on the power play. Maybe some guys just aren’t made to be quarterbacks). Maybe he’s trying to do too much or getting too caught up in the defensive aspects of Trotz’s system, but the points just aren’t coming for him and it’s a problem that (so far) the Islanders have managed to overcome. Again, he’s looked okay lately, but when you’re winning, everything looks okay.
Does Lou Lamoriello really provide any hope for Islanders fans or is he the dinosaur we think he is?
Lou provides hope that the New York Islanders can be run like an actual, adult NHL franchise for the first time in a generation. Yes, he’s old as shit and his various rules are largely stupid (ask Dom!). But after years of out-of-the-box thinking, it’s been refreshing to see the Islanders think within the box for a change. Like hiring people to do jobs that most NHL teams have and making changes when stuff isn’t working. That might be a low bar to clear, but it’s something the Islanders haven’t been able to do in quite some time. Any GM is only as good as his last deal, but so far, having Lou looking over everyone’s shoulders has been good for the franchise.

 

Game #43 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It wouldn’t be a good idea to use the New York Islanders as a barometer for what common thinking is in the NHL. Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are… well, we don’t really know but I’m going to go ahead and guess they’re not going to be mentioned with Socrates or Plato or Vecini. They got their new stadium, and good for them, because the Isles need it. They’ve kept around Garth Snow for too long, and making a change is probably a good idea.

But hiring Lou Lamoriello is the kind of dinosaur thinking and Old Boys Club that keeps this league squarely in its own ass, and why things like the Vegas Golden Knights can happen.

Ol’ Lou is a Hall of Famer, and rightly so. He built something of a dynasty in New Jersey, even if it was the last place anyone wanted one and it was the last team you’d ever want to watch. And maybe, yeah, they set the sport back a decade or six with the neutral zone trap. But hey, it worked, it won, no one was really doing it, and the NHL was flat-footed in figuring out how to stop it, or even figuring out it needed to stop it. Except the Red Wings kind of did it with Scotty Bowman and the left-wing lock but we’ll leave that for another time. The Devils perfected it, and Lou brought through guys like Brodeur, Stevens, Elias, Daneyo, Gomez, Sykora, Niedermayer, et al.

Here’s the thing with Lou, though. Aside from that goofy Final appearance in 2012 that really doesn’t make any sense other than the entire Eastern Conference went for shawarma or something, four of the last five Devils teams missed the playoffs, and only one of them came anywhere close. The previous three before that went out in the first round. So for over a decade, Lou’s Devils teams made it out of the first round three times. They missed the playoffs four times. This isn’t exactly a glittering record as the game sped up and got more open.

As for this current Devils team, the one that did make the playoffs and was actually something more than a torture device to get people to talk when you watched them, Lou’s fingerprints aren’t really present. Their core players are as follows:

Taylor Hall – traded for after Lou left

Nico Hischier – drafted after Lou

Kyle Palmieri – signed after Lou

Will Butcher – signed after Lou

Jesper Bratt – drafted by Lou

Miles Wood – drafted by Lou

Sami Vatanen – traded for after Lou

Pavel Zacha – drafted after Lou

Now, Cory Schneider was a Lou trade…except he’s been terrible for two seasons. Keith Kinkaid was a Lou draftee as well, though. But you can see where Ray Shero has basically spent three seasons trying to clear all the trash Lou left him.

So let’s move over to Toronto, where Lou was the GM or three seasons. He got a crack at two drafts, as he was hired after the ’15 draft and free agency period. And he took…Auston Matthews? I mean, hey, that’s great. But like, it’s not like he unearthed Matthews. This wasn’t a genius display of scouting. He had the top pick, Matthews was clearly the best player in that draft. So there you go. None of the other picks the past two seasons while under Lou’s stewardship have made it to the NHL, though to be fair it’s kind of a short view.

Here are some signings the Leafs made in Lou’s time:

Nikita Zaitsev – ok

Roman Polak, after trading him away once – a circus bear

Matt Martin – can’t count to four

Brian Boyle – fine, maybe? Basically a 4th line center and really a dime a dozen and despite being a good story he’s just kind of there with dumb and bad facial hair

Freddie Andersen – Been good, until you say the words “Game” and “7” and then he does Muppet arms while running away from you

Patrick Marleau – Ok, good, can’t argue with 27 goals. He might be three days older than water, but he provides something.

So what did Lou add to the Leafs’ core? Maybe Andersen? Seems like they’re already thinking about a new goalie when they want to win something serious. Zaitsev? Depth d-man, I’ll give you that one. And Marleau? Pretty much a complimentary scorer at this point.

So what about any of that screams you need him to not only turn around your team but also convince the best player in your organization in at least two decades to stay so you can speed up that turnaround? I mean, maybe name recognition is all that Tavares needs. Maybe he grew up turning off Devils games so he could so something he might actually enjoy, but has memories of them. Still, if Tavares is getting any decent advice, Lou’s hiring won’t mean shit.

There was a time when it would. It’s not now. And yet this kind of silliness keeps happening.

Everything Else

Staying out east, it’s now time to take a look at the other half of the realignment mess that is that conference with the Metropolitan Division, which consists of all of the Mid Atlantic teams, and somehow Columbus and Carolina, which is the first time either place has been referred to even remotely as metropolitan. Most of the punditry will tell you this will be the best division in the new alignment. But just because it’ll be competitive doesn’t mean it’ll be well played.

Everything Else

With the Summer Doldrums officially in full effect thanks in no small part to the League taking its sweet ass time to announce an agreement for Olympic participation in Sochi this coming February, and as a result its own regular season schedule, it’s time to take a spin into a couple matters beyond the Blackhawks.

But one local matter needs to be addressed first.